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Gregg Berhalter has cast a wide net in his search for national team talent, auditioning a record 40 players in his first 23 games as U.S. coach. So far he’s been rewarded for that work, with four players he recruited contributing to the scoring and another pitching a shutout in goal in Sunday’s 7-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in Orlando, Fla.
The result, combined with six-goal performances in the final two games of 2020, marked the first time in national team history the U.S. has scored at least five goals in three consecutive games.
“Overall it's very difficult to pick out a player that didn't play well,” Berhalter said.
Jesús Ferreira, making his second international appearance, had two goals and three assists while defenders Sam Vines and Miles Robinson, both playing in their third match for the U.S., combined for a goal and two assists. Goalkeeper Matt Turner, in his U.S. debut, stopped a penalty kick midway through the second half to preserve the clean sheet.
“The upside of seeing this many players and working with this many players is that they're familiar with what we do,” the coach continued. “We know we have a busy schedule this year. We also know that a large portion of the players that received first caps are very young players.
“The earlier we can get our hands on them, the earlier we can work with them, the better off this whole program can be in the future.”
Indeed it will be an active and important year for the U.S., with a schedule that includes the Nations League, Gold Cup, eight World Cup qualifiers and the Olympic qualifying tournament. And Trinidad, playing its first game in 14 months, may not have been the best opponent to prepare for that.
Outmatched from the start, Trinidad was outshot 19-2 with the U.S. putting 12 of those tries on target.
“You play against your opponent,” said Berhalter, whose team is unbeaten in its last seven games. “You have to still perform and that's what's most important. To me it's about how are we creating goal-scoring opportunities. How are we finishing goals. How we’re defending, how we’re pressing the ball.
“All those things need to be there, regardless of who we're playing.”
The young Americans wasted little time in taking control with Ferreira setting up Jonathan Lewis’ first international goal in the second minute, running on to a long pass from Vines, then laying the ball off for Lewis charging into the penalty area.
Ferreira doubled the score in the ninth minute with his first U.S. goal, volleying in a feed from Vines from the edge of the six-yard box. He then assisted on a pair first-half goals from Paul Arriola.
Robinson got his first international goal with a header off a free kick early in the second half, followed by second goals from Lewis and Ferreira in the next 10 minutes, giving the U.S. three players with multiple scores.
Ferreira, Vines, Lewis and Robinson are all eligible for the Olympic qualifying tournament, and under-23 competition scheduled for March in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“Just go out and enjoy it and have fun,” Lewis said. “That’s what I did. An opportunity to play on the national team is always great.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.